‘Bad for the Community’ explores Gentrification in Boyle Heights Now and In The Future

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by Tom Nguyen

Friday, April 15 was the opening night of “Bad for the Community”, a new play at CASA 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights, written by Josefina Lopez and Oscar Arguello and includes “the voices for and against gentrification.” Many in this community, where I live, are in a state of active vigilance against anything resembling gentrification and the topic has even made the international news like The Guardian‘s recent coverage on the activist groups confronting outsiders.

The first act moves us through many familiar settings here in Boyle Heights: from 2 women (Rachel Gonzalez and Ronni Valentine) on the Gold Line discussing how they unintentionally contributed to gentrification as artists wanting to liven up the neighborhood, to a mariachi player (Ray Rios) lamenting that no one pays for songs anymore in Mariachi Plaza. We then meet a couple, Esteban (Gabriel Guillen) and Sol (Rachel Gonzalez), just trying to survive on their meager pay, long hours and sharing one car, in a neighborhood clearly changing faster than they can cope. Continue Reading →

Week’s Highlights: March 16-20

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by Tom Nguyen

IMG_5626Wednesday, March 16, sister trio A-WA from Israel enthralled the packed crowd at The Echo with their Yemeni folk music. Tair, Liron & Tagel Haim (originally known as The Haim Sisters and not to be confused with another sister trio Haim) grew up in a small village Shaharut in the southern Israeli Arava Valley. Since childhood, the girls have been singing traditional songs passed down from their Yemeni grandmother. The love and protest songs of women in the Yemeni-Arabic dialect have been passed on as an oral tradition. Continue Reading →

Interview with Hayokaht: Defiant and Conscious Experimental Jazz in LA’s Eastside

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Story and Photos by Oscar Bautista

With belting horns and driving rhythms, Hayokaht is one act coming out of East LA that is bringing back jazz to the communities it calls home. Using the technical and chaotic styles of free jazz, while still venturing into new territories of sound, this group takes its audiences on a ride through the eclectic cultures of its members.

Playing as a quartet, Bryan Diaz (tenor sax), Angel Hernandez (alto sax from Buyepongo), Michael Ibarra (bass from El Haru Kuroi), and Harout Gulesserian (drums) form a powerhouse group of talented artists that tempt the edges of jazz to find their unique sound.

IMG_0047 With a residency at Eastside Luv, you shouldn’t be surprised to find a packed house every first Wednesday of the month as Hayokaht entertains a crowd of fans. It was especially packed this first Wednesday of December where people came out to support Hayokaht by donating to help them towards their first EP.

After seeing their performance first hand I quickly understood why the bar was bursting at the seams. Soul baring and never missing a beat, Hayokaht mixed the wild improvisation of free jazz and the dark setting of L.A. life into a great live set.

Glimpses of the jazz masters such as Sun Ra and Charles Mingus can be heard in their performance giving homage to the artists who molded free jazz. That’s not to take away attention from the amazing musicianship carried by all four member of the group – each providing their own flavor to the Hayokaht sound.

After their set, I got to speak with these new torches bearers of L.A. free jazz to find out more about how they came together, as well as how they connect to the community through music. Continue Reading →

Highland Park community members march and speak up against Gentrification while LA Councilmember Gil Cedillo hosts a Jazz festival

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Story and Photos by Katie J

(Highland Park) — “Gente Si! Gentrify NO!” A chanting crowd gathered at the York and Figueroa intersection, underneath the American flag and afternoon sun. “Here, take one.” A small child handed her friend a sign reading ‘Our Future! Our Fight!’ as she clutched her own, which proclaimed ‘I Love My Community.’ “Start them young, huh?” One mother said to another, as both laughed. The feel of family, unity, and neighborly love buzzed through the air. But there was a distinct, strong undercurrent of urgency — this was not a casual gathering. The individuals from across Los Angeles that came were there to fight, to speak their piece, to be heard. To support one another in the battle against the many-tentacled monster of gentrification. Organized by NELA Alliance, BKR Gang and Drug Intervention Program, Eviction Defense Network, and concerned residents and local business owners, the day’s march and resource fair were a direct response to growing threats within a rapidly gentrifying Highland Park.

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A little after 4PM, NELAA organizers called for everyone to circle up. Pastor Wayne Turner of BKR gave a rousing cry for unity in these difficult times, for neighborly support and outreach. “The Highland Park homeless population has grown almost 20%,” he said. “When the city cuts our resources, our problems only get worse.” Next, organizer Arturo read a piece he’d prepared, which asked everyone gathered to remember the roots of this fight. “Our ancestors walk with us… every step we take we honor the earth… we are a people of the river, of these hills.” As he spoke, organizer Melissa translated into Spanish. “This march is over 500 years old… let’s speak some truth to those that deny our existence.” A member of the Brown Berets spoke next, explaining that the Berets were there to help with crowd control, and asked that marchers remain on the sidewalks. “The police will look for any little reason to intervene, to stop us.” Miguel, another organizer, ended the short speeches and began the march with a powerful chant that overtook the crowd “Si se puede! Si se puede!” which continued as the crowd headed down Figueroa. “Si se puede! Our streets!” Continue Reading →

The Arcs, new project by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, plays first live show at Espacio 1839 in Boyle Heights (Full video)

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by Tom Nguyen

I found out yesterday afternoon a new band The Arcs was going to have their first live performance at Espacio 1839 in Boyle Heights that very evening…and not just any new band…one formed by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Now disclaimer: I haven’t listened to The Black Keys since ohhh 2010 but hey I live a few blocks away from Espacio 1839, and I’m not above being a curiosity seeker, especially when a new hipster band decides to premiere at one of Boyle Heights’ bastions of anti-gentrification. How does that even happen? Well apparently El Oms, an artist and good friends with Espacio 1839, did the artwork for The Arcs’ upcoming music video for the song Put a Flower in Your Pocket. The night was a celebration of the completion of the video, which will be released next Friday August 14.

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East LA Interchange documentary about Boyle Heights history premieres Sunday July 26 at Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles

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by Tom Nguyen

It is often said that one cannot understand the present without knowing the past. East LA Interchange, a documentary by Betsy Kalin about Boyle Heights history, is premiering Sunday, July 26, during a very apt time when the community is responding to issues of gentrification, immigrant rights, violence and housing and economic challenges with community organizing and grass roots activism. The film reminds us community solidarity and political activism in the face of many challenges has always been a part of Boyle Heights history.

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Hollywood Hills Realtor invites Hipsters to discover Boyle Heights

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by Tom Nguyen

I happened to see the following post on my Twitter feed yesterday from Boyle Heights resident, Ofelia Carillo, asking others to respond to a post which upset her:

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Reading it alarmed me too. It’s brazen and it’s obvious in its message and its audience: touting Boyle Heights to “hipster” home buyers as some kind of newly discovered oasis amid the increasingly unaffordable Los Angeles real estate market. The twitter account lists a real estate blog Just Off Mulholland run by Jimmy Bayan of John Aaroe Group. The properties listed run up to the multi-million dollar range in areas of Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, Silverlake, Echo Park…it’s a westward march that has apparently now led him to discover Boyle Heights.

His post strikes me as insensitive as last year’s flyer by another realtor wanting to lead a bicycle tour for prospective buyers. If you recall, that realtor was also touting “charming, historic” Boyle Heights with the headline “Why rent in Downtown when you can own in Boyle Heights.” The community backlash then was quick, vociferous and clear — anything hinting of gentrification would be challenged.

What is maddening to many residents and activists like Carrillo is this Christopher Columbus-mentality of “discovering” places to live for a more affluent set of people, who have the means to come in and buy property in minority and working class neighborhoods, where ownership is beyond the means of most people already living there. As wealthier inhabitants move in, prices and rents go up and working class families who’ve been eking out an existence for generations get displaced.

Boyle Heights especially has great historical significance in regards to housing in Los Angeles, but its the “historic” part of that charm that often is lost on new discoverers like Bayan. I personally tweeted to Bayan to educate him on some of this history and the challenges the community has overcome. Continue Reading →

The Hipster Apocalypse is upon Us…Can We Save our Neighborhoods…


…the zombie apocalypse has already begun…all over the country in places like LA, Oakland, Harlem…insidiously, they take over our businesses, our schools, our homes…flooding our streets with bicycles….

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